At long last, the season 13 finale. Tying season three for the longest in Drag Race herstory, this season has dragged, stretched out by its five non-elimination episodes. The wait is finally over, however, and while COVID filming restrictions mean no live audience, the Drag Race team does their best to replicate the typical finale energy as much as possible. “RPDR Grand Finale” is a jam-packed, exciting episode that builds confidently through the first half to the lip-sync showdown. Unfortunately, that’s where the episode lets itself down. After all that build up, the lip-syncs are, well, fine? The songs are good, the queens are talented, but compared to the fashion and the slick production throughout the finale, the lip-syncs are underwhelming, ending the season with falling action, rather than a thrilling build to the final moments.
The finale begins with a production number, RuPaul performing her song “New Friends Silver, Old Friends Gold,” with some help from the Drag Race dancers. Ru gets in on season 13’s tulle trend in a stoned nude illusion leotard and massive tulle coat with blonde hair, and she looks amazing. The song itself isn’t all that memorable, but it doesn’t need to be. This number is there to remind everyone at home why it’s RuPaul’s Drag Race, thank you very much, and mission accomplished.
Michelle introduces the top four queens by announcing the finale’s not one, not two, but three runway categories: Black and White, Red All Over, and Grand Finale Eleganza Extravaganza. The queens come out in alphabetical order, as always, and Gottmik makes a strong impression with her looks. For Black and White, she’s in a Pinhead-inspired look with a studded headpiece, black bondage wear over a white body suit, and impeccable paint. Her red look is more playful, a red flared red jumpsuit and bracers that takes inspiration from Keith Haring and David Bowie. She saved the best for last, though, her blue and gold eleganza. It’s striking, with a bold but accessible silhouette and plenty of drama, her bare chest exposed and ornamented with a Swarovski heart.
Kandy’s looks may not meet Mik’s, but they’re a big step up from her regular season fashion. Her black and white look is a Kandy take on a gown, part leotard and train, part formal wear. The dress itself is white with a sparkling BLM in black, though the design is such that without her voice over, some could be forgiven for missing the message. Kandy’s red look is more expected, a red mini dress with gold accents, a boombox purse, and oversized red headphones. Like Mik, her final look is her best, a black and blue gown with a massive peacock feather headpiece.
Rosé’s first look is a do-over of sorts of her tulle look, a My Fair Lady-inspired dress with massive bows, a wide-brimmed hat, and under-sized parasol. She looks fantastic. Less successful is her red look, which imagines her as an overgrown red tree, vines curving around her and giving her a beautiful crown and rooting her feet to the ground. Like the others, her most memorable look is her final one, a mint green, silver, and black outfit reminiscent of European royalty. Everything shimmers and glitters, and while Mik and Symone also went queenly for their final looks, Rosé’s is the least expected take.
Speaking of Symone, she once again delivers with her final runways. Her best look is her first, a blend of Versailles and Black fashion, her massive skirts combining ermine wraps and black, white, and silver bandanas. Her red look is campier and more fun, a fringed dress that on closer look is made of red acrylic nails. That’s creative enough, but the element that takes it over the top is her wig, two blonde ponytails held by a pair of Black hands (made of brunette hair), with their own massive red nails. While it doesn’t quite match her first look, her finale eleganza is terrific as well, a sleek, draped white dress with custom gold armor covering her right side and a massive blonde wig, dripped with gold. All four queens brought it to the runway, but as has been the case all season, at their best, Mik and Symone are out ahead of the pack.
Ru walks out to start the proceedings, glowing in a simple but pretty neon dress. The producers cut back and forth between the theater where the finale is being filmed and audience reactions at a distanced viewing party at the Drag Race drive-in, a fun way to mimic the energy of a live crowd. As reigning champ and onsite reporter Jaida Essence Hall makes sure to mention each time she’s thrown to, Bubly Bounce has sponsored the drive-in and it’s a key part of maintaining the momentum of the episode. Ru asks Jaida her advice for the top four and Jaida, looking glamorous and chic in a black gown and hat, reminds the queens that they’re all sickening, and to go get that crown.
It’s time for the interview portion. Ru brings out each of the top four queens in turn, introducing them with a best of montage from the season. Their chats are similar to their “Getting’ Lucky!” conversations, but they’re punctuated with video messages from fans and family, including Paris Hilton, who drops in to root on Mik. Each of the queens’ families sends in a message of support and they all come off well, genuine and supportive. Rosé’s is particularly delightful; her family are total dorks, charming and silly and very excited for her
The interviews take the finale to its halfway point, but there’s still a bit of time to fill, so Ru takes advantage of that fact to draw awareness to 40th anniversary of the first reported case of AIDS. After a clip of Bette Midler singing her hit “Friends” at a 1991 AIDS fundraiser, Ru connects that pandemic to the current one and introduces a music video recorded earlier with the queens both in and out of drag, lip-syncing to The Devine Miss M. The video more or less works, but its transition from reflective, emotional tribute to those lost to fun, cheerful bop is awkward to say the least. Rosé and Symone seem to be in completely different videos than Mik and Kandy at the beginning. A subtler transition or slightly more somber tone, at least until the reveal of the top four in drag, would have given more weight and impact to the performance. The tone shifts back when Ru introduces the next clip package, a tribute to the late Chi Chi DeVayne, who died in August of 2020. Fellow Drag Race alums Bob the Drag Queen, Kennedy Davenport, Thorgy Thor, Eureka, Kim Chi, Latrice Royale, Cynthia Lee Fontaine, and Heidi N Closet share memories of her and reflect on her legacy. It’s a moving, emotional segment, and a very pleasant surprise.
Back on the main stage, it’s time for the lip-sync smackdown and Ru announces that this season, each of the songs will be by the same artist: Britney Spears. Ru then introduces a surprise guest to introduce the rules, her cousin Senator Cory Booker—no seriously, they’re related, as they discovered after both participated in PBS’s Finding Your Roots. Booker doesn’t actually go through the rules, but gives a pep talk and fills a little more time, before Ru spins the wheel and reveals the lip-sync lineups. Kandy and Rosé will lip-sync first, then Mik and Symone, with the winner of each battle competing for the crown.
As the first queen chosen by the wheel, Kandy gets to choose the first song, contained in two pink boxes carried by the Pit Crew, one smooth and one furry. She goes furry, and her and Rosé’s song is revealed as Britney’s “Work Bitch.” They take their positions and the battle begins. Rosé is in a textured pink blazer and boots with strawberry blonde hair, a reveal clearly waiting to happen, while Kandy is in a white frilly leotard and blonde wig, ready to dance. Rosé tears away her look to reveal a light pink body suit and Kandy reveals one of her own, a candy colored leotard, but that’s where the performance tops out. Both know the song and they lip-sync it well, but between Rosé’s twisted ankle and Kandy seemingly holding back some moves, their performances are surprisingly subdued. Ru gives the win to Kandy, and it’s time for round two.
A little banter with Pit Crew member Bryce and Mik and Symone’s song is revealed to be Britney’s “Gimme More.” Mik is in a puffy red dress and black leggings with a red wig, while Symone is in a white track suit and tall, Grace Jones-style wig, her name emblazoned across her chest in purple and gold. Again, both clearly have reveals they’re waiting to pull out. The music drops and they both start serving face, giving plenty of attitude and movement. Mik deploys her costume change first, converting her skirt into a train and revealing “Crash the cis-tem” in red stones on her chest. Symone’s tear-away isn’t quite as clean, but it reveals a yellow dance costume, a much more dramatic change. She also lifts off her wig to reveal a long, wavy, reverse ombre wig, which she starts flipping. This lip-sync is much more dynamic than Rosé and Kandy’s, to the point where one wouldn’t blame RuPaul for calling an audible and giving Symone and Mik a rematch for the crown, over Kandy. That’s not in the cards, though, and Ru gives the win to Symone.
Before the final lip-sync, Ru throws once more to each of the season 13 queens, who present their finale couture remotely. Everyone looks good, but LaLa and Utica are next level, the standouts in a strong crowd. Ru welcomes out season 12 Miss Congeniality Heidi N Closet, who is in a green and red dress that doesn’t quite translate. Perhaps she’s a thorny rose? It won’t matter to fans, though, as she’s her usual charming self, playing well with Ru before passing on her title. Miss Congeniality for season 13, and the winner of the $10,000 prize from Olay Body, is LaLa Ri! After slaying so thoroughly in the reunion, it’s great to see LaLa get this boost. Olay Body also gifts the rest of the queens $2,000, ending the segment on a cheery note. Ru then welcomes out Jaida, who looks fantastic and every inch the reigning monarch in a burgundy gown and head piece. It’s a shame her tenure has been so impacted by COVID, but Jaida handles Ru’s questions about her experiences over the past year with grace, side-stepping the disappointment she and the rest of the season 12 queens must feel over their unfortunate timing.
After one final commercial break, Ru brings out Kandy and Symone for the final lip-sync battle. Symone is in a tall black braided wig and floor-length black coat, again, an obvious reveal, while Kandy is in a sparkling pastel pink and purple jumpsuit. Their song will be Britney’s “Till The World Ends.” They take their positions and prepare. Symone quickly reveals her second look, a dress comprised of yellow straps that function as fringe, swinging with each motion. Both Kandy and Symone jump around and have fun, but as with “Work Bitch,” it’s hard not to want more. In a nice bit of escalation, Kandy brings out a flag for the Dominican Republic, but shortly after, Symone triggers her wig and yellow streamers pop out of it, taking focus right back from Kandy. It’s fun, but it isn’t a transformative, season-culminating performance, on either of their parts. Symone edges out Kandy though, and this, along with her performance all season, makes her the clear winner. Ru builds suspense, but ultimately does name Symone America’s Next Drag Superstar, sending the season out on an anticlimactic, but satisfying note.
Season 13 had its ups and downs, but despite grumbles here and there, it’s been an entertaining and compelling season. Shot under difficult conditions during an incredibly emotional time for all involved, it’s easy to overlook the challenges of this season, but only because the Drag Race team made it look so effortless. The queens performed admirably, the production came up with creative solutions to guest judging and most, if not all, of their trademark challenges, and the most common complaint, aside from the typical claims of rigga morris, is that the season ran too long. It was too much of a good thing. That’s a wonderful place for a series to be, 13 seasons into its run. Rosé, Mik, and Kandy each delivered excellent performances across the season and stepped up their fashion for the finale, and Symone is a fitting, deserving winner. It’s hard to ask much more than that.
- Seriously, Ru looks ridiculous. May we all—or anyone who so wishes—look so good at 60.
- She may have had a great season and delivered in the finale, but Rosé could not have been more obviously telegraphed as an also-ran. Ru did not see her as a real contender for the crown, as she made apparent when she said Rosé was, “leaving here a star.” A star, but certainly not America’s Next Drag Superstar.
- Speaking of Rosé, I appreciated the Lawrence Chaney and Ellie Diamond shout-outs during her interview.
- Can we get Denali and LaLa back for a lip-sync smackdown redo? You know they would have slayed “Work Bitch.”
- Mik really impressed me with “Gimme More.” This was definitely her best lip-sync of the season.
- I’ve had my issues with aspects of season 13, but it feels increasingly like one that will age well. I look forward to seeing how the all the queens grow from here, and to seeing them on future seasons of All Stars.